It’s great news that Southwark Council has created five new conservation areas along the Old Kent Road in Peckham and Walworth.
When people think about the Old Kent Road, often what they imagine is a busy jumble of warehouses, industrial estates and shops. It’s not often that we think about it as a place of rich history and architectural merit.
And yet, as the council’s planning team’s reports on the five new conservation areas show, just off the main road there is an array of wonderful nineteenth- and twentieth-century housing, schools and other buildings that are worthy of attention, protection and preservation.
Among them are Pembroke House in Walworth, an 1880s building set up by students from the Cambridge college to help underprivileged people in the area, which is still a community centre today. The handsome former Livesey Library in Peckham was founded in the late nineteenth century to give workers at the local gasworks access to books. Both of these are monuments to the long and ongoing history of community work in Southwark.
As council officers highlighted at the planning meeting where the new sites were voted in, conservation areas do not need to be a barrier to development. That’s good – Southwark Council wants to get thousands of homes built along the Old Kent Road in the coming decade, including many affordable homes for local people.
What it does mean is that the standard for new developments should be higher, which is to be welcomed. If the Old Kent Road area is going to be transformed in the coming decade – and it is a big ‘if’, given the uncertain future of the Bakerloo line extension – it is right that our local heritage is preserved and enhanced by the new building.